A group in Colorado has been gathering signatures across the state to try and force an introduction of the gray wolf (Canis lupus) into Colorado. The heavily funded “Rocky Mountain Wolf Project” claims they already have more than the 124,632 signatures needed by December 13 to officially place Ballot Initiative 107 before the voters of Colorado in 2020.
The proposed ballot measure would direct the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission (CPW) to develop a plan to restore and manage gray wolves in Colorado “using the best scientific data available” and “designed to resolve conflicts with persons engaged in ranching and farming.”
According to documents obtained by Safari Club International through a Colorado Open Records Act request, the reintroduction effort would cost Colorado Parks and Wildlife around $6 million dollars through the first eight years of implementation, with additional yearly expenses topping over three-quarters of a million dollars annually.
Historically, Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s Commission has not supported the introduction of wolves into the state, formally opposing the idea in a 2016 Resolution. However, under the Colorado Fair Campaign Practices Act, CPW employees and the agency are now prohibited from “purporting to convey any opinion on behalf of the State, the Department of Natural Resources or CPW”.
While CPW employees can expend personal funds or use personal time to urge electors to vote one way or another on a ballot initiative, they are barred from working on the ballot effort or expressing a personal opinion on a ballot issue or measure during work time.
Aside from the obvious safety concern of releasing wolves into a growing state that already boasts six million residents, the ballot effort has raised red flags in the hunting community. Introducing an apex predator into the ecosystem would likely have disastrous effects on the large ungulate populations for which Colorado is famous. Fewer elk and mule deer from predation means fewer tags available for resident and non-resident hunters. Fewer tags means fewer hunters to pursue them, and fewer hunters means fewer hunting licenses sold by Colorado Parks and Wildlife. Loss of license revenue means less money available for CPW to use for the management of wildlife and habitat. Over time, lost licenses could also impact the federal funding the state of Colorado receives through the Pittman-Robertson Act that distributes funds based on the number of hunters a state has.
Hunters are joined in their concern by the agricultural community who fear that wolf predation on livestock could damage an industry that contributes more than $4 billion a year into the state.
Lastly, there are also Endangered Species Act implications. Wolves are an endangered species and will continue to be so until the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service delists them. Introducing a federally protected predatory species comes with all kinds of headaches including new management problems for the state wildlife management agency and use restrictions for those whose activities can accidentally interfere with the behavior of the protected species.
If wolf reintroduction makes it to the ballot – who will be deciding whether Colorado should take on the responsibility of federally protected predators who will put Colorado’s game species and agricultural animals on their preferred menu? Will it be wildlife management experts who understand the serious responsibilities and implications of conserving an endangered species? Unfortunately, not. At the end of the day, Colorado’s wildlife decisions could soon be made by ballot box, through the votes of individuals who have no idea what it means to manage a federally listed predator species.
Wildlife management by ballot box is a horrible precedent to set. Wildlife management decisions should be made by the biologists, wildlife managers and scientists who have the expertise and experience to make decisions that will affect Colorado’s wildlife and those who enjoy that wildlife.
So, what can YOU do to help ensure wildlife management is based on sound science and not emotional rhetoric? You can stay informed on the issue and speak up when needed!
Sign up for SCI’s Hunter Advocacy Action Center to receive important updates and alerts about not only this ballot issue in Colorado, but other important fights around the country. Safari Club International will continue to monitor this situation and will be involved in every way we can to ensure state management authority isn’t undermined at the ballot box. With your help, we can win.
Our strength is in numbers and decisions are made by those who show up.
It’s time for hunters to show up…in numbers.